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Government introduces legislation to prevent and address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces

Media Release

The Morrison Government is strengthening national laws to better prevent and respond to sexual harassment and discrimination in Australian workplaces.

The Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, introduced today, will implement the Government's response to a number of recommendations in the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work Report. The Bill will strengthen Australia's anti-discrimination and industrial relations frameworks by simplifying, clarifying, and enhancing protections against sexual harassment and other forms of sex discrimination in the workplace.

"Building a safe and respectful culture in all Australian workplaces is a priority for the Australian Government as demonstrated by the swift development and introduction of this legislation," said the Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash.

On 8 April 2021, the Government released the 'Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces' (the Roadmap) in response to the Respect@Work Report. This Bill gives effect to the Government's commitments in relation to Recommendations 16, 20, 21, 22, 29 and 30 of the Respect@Work Report, including by:

  • clarifying that harassing a person on the basis of sex is prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Act, by explicitly making this clear on the face of the Act
  • protecting more workers from sexual harassment, particularly vulnerable workers, by broadening the scope of people covered by the Sex Discrimination Act, including now volunteers, interns and self-employed persons 
  • clarifying that a complaint of victimisation can be considered as either a civil or criminal matter
  • extending the timeframe for which a complaint can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission to reduce procedural barriers for complainants under the Sex Discrimination Act
  • clarifying that the Fair Work Commission may make orders to stop sexual harassment in the workplace
  • clarifying that sexual harassment can be a valid reason for dismissal under the Fair Work Act

In addition to implementing the Roadmap, the Bill also amends the Fair Work Act to enable an employee to take compassionate leave if they, or their spouse or de facto partner, has a miscarriage. This amendment will promote women's workforce participation and, more broadly, women's economic security.

The Bill has been welcomed by stakeholders as a significant step towards achieving substantive equality within Australia's workplaces. "I would like to thank all stakeholders who provided feedback on the Bill during targeted consultation, including employer groups, the ACTU, states and territories, the Respect@Work Council and Kate Jenkins who authored the Respect@Work Report" said the Attorney-General. These amendments will build on work already underway to implement other Respect@Work recommendations.

"This legislation is a considerable step in achieving greater safety and economic security for women across the whole of our society," said the Attorney-General.

You can track the progress of the Bill by subscribing to the Parliament of Australia website.

If you need immediate assistance or support you can contact 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732.